“Screens Series: Fern Silva” continues the New Museum’s Screens Series, a platform for the presentation of new video and film by emerging contemporary artists.
Fern Silva, Ride Like Lightning, Crash Like Thunder, 2017 (still, detail). 16mm film transferred to digital video, sound; 8:30 min. Courtesy the artist
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Rooted in histories of experimental film and ethnography, Fern Silva’s works are sensuous, polyvocal montages of people and places, the natural and unnatural worlds. Silva uses his own field recordings, clips from widely viewed films, and footage from obscure or pedestrian broadcast sources to upend the progressive linearity of conventional storytelling in a move toward narrative disorder; he does this by surfacing various historical moments within more contemporary ones and venturing into narratives of darkness, destruction, and the paranormal. Some of Silva’s films render specific geographical locations as speculative realities, blending fictitious and real aspects of their social and cultural histories, while others are atmospheric and surreal, foregrounding the playfulness and rigor of Silva’s associative strategies.
While many of Silva’s works reference the act of viewing with motifs of screens, projected light, and film as material, in The Watchmen (2017), vision becomes a clearer subject of inquiry. Panopticons, vernacular architecture, orbs of light, entangled bodies in the dark, and subterranean labyrinths explore the meanings of vision—from sight to apparition—as well as how each kind of vision might function. Silva free-associates throughout The Watchmen, considering the phenomenon of “missing time,” or gaps in conscious perception, and various experiences of lost time. The jail—a site of unrelenting disciplinary and punitive gazes—recurs as a reference to the temporalities of human life as well as historical time.
Set in Hudson, NY, Ride Like Lightning, Crash Like Thunder (2017) challenges the established and cherished histories of this upstate town, playing up more disruptive influences of fantasy, the occult, and complex social relations. A storm builds and “the hand of history” appears, both a reminder and a catalyst of things to come. The ways in which animal, vegetal, and human lives encroach upon and recede from each other determine much of the narrative of Wayward Fronds (2015), Silva’s portrait of the Florida Everglades. Silva celebrates the resilience of this subtropical wetland against decades-long efforts to turn it into farmland or real estate, while at the same time critiquing the idea of wilderness. Referencing the cinematic history of the Everglades as a trusty stand-in for films set in the Amazon, Silva interweaves footage from both locations; mermaids that appear throughout the film evoke other kinds of ecological fantasies. For Scales in the Spectrum of Space (2015), Silva portrays the city of Chicago, culling from over seventy hours of footage and more than thirty different films; veteran jazz musician and former Sun Ra Arkestra member Phil Cohran composed the film’s score. Here “scales” conjure both a standard form that is rehearsed to ensure uniformity, and a descriptor of size or scope. Silva and Cohran consider these various associations of scales within spaces that are urban, domestic, aqueous, public, cosmic, and interstellar.
The earliest of Silva’s works included in this series, Concrete Parlay (2012) and In the Absence of Light, Darkness Prevails (2010) delve into more general themes. Tethered neither to a place nor to any one figure, they accrue images and sounds that draw connections between real and imagined, animate and inanimate worlds. They knit together manifold cosmologies to signal the vast history of the world with its cycles of birth and destruction, honing the potentiality of speculative montage that characterizes Silva’s oeuvre to date.
“Screens Series: Fern Silva” is organized by Alicia Ritson, Marcia Tucker Senior Research Fellow.
Fern Silva (b. 1982, Hartford, CT) is an artist who primarily works in 16mm. His films consider methods of narrative, ethnographic, and documentary filmmaking as the starting point for structural experimentation. He has created a body of film, video, and projection work that has been screened and performed at various festivals, galleries, museums, and cinematheques including the Toronto, Berlin, Locarno, Rotterdam, New York, London, and Hong Kong International Film Festivals; Anthology Film Archives, New York; Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago; Cinemateca Boliviana, La Paz, Bolivia; the Museum of Art Lima; Brooklyn Academy of Music; the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Cinéma du Réel at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and in “Greater New York” at MoMA P.S.1, New York (2010). He has organized and curated screenings at venues including the Nightingale Cinema, Gallery 400, and DINCA Vision Quest in Chicago. His work has been featured in publications including Film Comment, Artforum, Cinema Scope, Filmmaker Magazine, Millennium, and Senses of Cinema. He studied art and cinema at the Massachusetts College of Art and the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College. He is Visiting Artist in Residence in the Film & Electronic Arts Department at Bard College and is based in New York.
Fern Silva’s films will be on view on the Lower Level screens Tuesday through Sunday, and will be presented in the New Museum Theater on Wednesdays from May 24 through July 17 in the following order: Scales in the Spectrum of Space (2015), Wayward Fronds (2015), Concrete Parlay (2012), and In the Absence of Light, Darkness Prevails (2010).